William Hogarth's painting of “The Tempest” Act 1, Scene 2 via Wikimedia
CAIRO – 1 November 2017: November 1 marks the first time that William Shakespeare’s final play, “The Tempest” was ever performed in 1611.
“The Tempest” begins on a stormy night, where a ship carrying Alonso, the King of Naples is torn apart by the raging waters. Nearby on an island, an old man named Prospero lives with his daughter, Miranda. Prospero, a sorcerer, and is the one responsible for causing the storm; avenging her from those on-board. Twelve years earlier, Prospero was meant to be the rightful Duke of Milan but was betrayed by his brother Antonio, who cast aside his brother and his young daughter out to sea.
Although they survived, Prospero harbored a desire for vengeance all throughout those years he spent in exile on the island. Prospero is accompanied by two magical servants; the spirit Ariel, imprisoned in a tree and saved by Prospero, and the wicked Caliban. The passengers on the ship have managed to wash ashore unharmed. King Alonso fears he has lost his son Prince Ferdinand in the storm.
However, Ferdinand is not only alive and well, but has fallen in love with Miranda. Prospero puts Ferdinand to hard work as punishment for being a traitor, which he carries out without complaint due to his love for Miranda. Alonso is joined by Sebastian and Antonio, who later hatch a plot to murder the king so that Sebastian can take the throne.
Elsewhere, the court jester Trinculo and butler Stephano wander the island and come across Caliban, who recruits them to help him kill Prospero and become the new ruler of the island. Ariel overhears this, and heads back to his master to report on Caliban’s treachery. Meanwhile, the King’s search party, exhausted and dispirited, come across a banquet and decides to dig in.
The fearsome Harpy, a monster that is half-bird and half woman, descends upon the group and judges them for their crimes. She points out that there are traitors at the table, and Alonso repents against what he has done. With Caliban’s group, Ariel has trapped them in a smelly pond, where Prospero later sets a group of spirits in the form of dogs on them. Caliban too repents and asks for Prospero to forgive him.
Prospero finally meets the King’s group, where Alonso appoints Prospero his rightful spot as Duke, and Prospero celebrates the wedding of Miranda and Ferdinand. By the end of the play, everyone has left the stage but Prospero, who directly addresses the audience by stating he can only leave the island by applause.
“The Tempest” has been adapted into various films across the ages as well. Amongst the well-received version was a 1979 BBC production that updates the setting and fashion for more contemporary times, by director Derek Jarman.
Taking the contemporary update in a more radical fashion is director Jack Bender’s 1998 adaptation, which sets the action in Civil War America. Here, Ariel is a slave, Prospero a plantation owner named Gordon Prosper grieving the loss of his wife, while his scheming brother Anthony takes over the plantation. Prosper delves into studying voodoo magic, which eventually forces him to flee into the Mississippi Bayous with his young daughter, played by Katherine Hegel, and Ariel.
One of the more recent and biggest adaptations of the film came in 2010 by director Julie Taymor, who shakes things up by turning Prospero into a woman named Prospera. While praised for its stunningly imaginative costume designs, this film adaptation was overall poorly received by critics.